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"URBAN LEGEND"
(1998) (Alicia Witt, Jared Leto) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Mild Extreme Extreme Extreme Extreme
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Moderate Heavy Extreme None Extreme
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Heavy Mild None Minor Extreme


QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A college student can't get anyone to accept her belief that a serial killer is using ghastly urban legends as a source for murder.
PLOT:
After the brutal murder of a fellow classmate, Michelle Mancini (NATASHA GREGSON WAGNER), the students of Pendleton College -- recently named the safest university in the country -- are a bit unnerved. That's because Paul (JARED LETO), an aggressive investigative journalist for the school paper, has printed a story about a homicidal lunatic being loose on the campus, a fact that doesn't sit well with Dean Adams (JOHN NEVILLE), or Reese (LORETTA DEVINE), the head of campus security.

None of that's helped by American Folklore Professor Wexler (ROBERT ENGLUND) and his class on urban legends. While he tries to debunk the stories of the person in the back seat of a car, the killer making telephone calls from inside the babysitter's house, and mixing Pop Rocks and Pepsi, one of his students, Natalie (ALICIA WITT), begins to get nervously suspicious regarding such incidents.

When a friend of hers, Damon (JOSHUA JACKSON), is killed in front of her eyes by a mysteriously hooded stranger, Natalie tries reporting the incident to the authorities, but they don't believe her. Her manic-depressive roommate, Tosh (DANIELLE HARRIS) is of no use to her, and her friends Brenda (REBECCA GAYHEART), who has a thing for Paul, and Parker (MICHAEL ROSENBAUM), who's dating Sasha (TARA REID), the host of a college radio sex advice show, believe that Damon -- a known practical joker -- was just pulling one over on her.

As more people are killed in ways copying the various urban legends she's heard about, however, Natalie tries to figure out the identity of the killer while attempting to warn others of the impending danger facing them.

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
If they're fans of other teen horror films such as "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer," it's probably a good bet they'll want to see this one.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
For horror violence/gore, language and sexual content.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • ALICIA WITT plays the college student who's initially the only one to believe a killer is loose on the campus.
  • JARED LETO plays the college newspaper reporter who smells fame from covering a story about such a serial killer.
  • REBECCA GAYHEART plays Natalie's friend who has a thing for Paul as well as a darker secret behind her behavior.
  • LORETTA DEVINE plays the campus cop who must deal with her continual discoveries of bodies on the campus.
  • ROBERT ENGLUND plays the somewhat creepy professor who attempts to debunk the urban legends in his class.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
    Following near exactly in the footsteps of its 1970's predecessor, "Scream" -- just like the original "Halloween" before it -- became a big hit, revitalized a near dead genre, and last but quite unfortunately, has inspired what's becoming a mind numbing array of imitators that hope to cash in on the teen-spawned success.

    From its inevitable sequel to "I Know What You Did Last Summer," as well as the umpteenth and latest installment of that Halloween franchise and the lame "Disturbing Behavior," these wannabe horror flicks are all present day cousins to "Prom Night, "Terror Train" and any number of other schlock-filled films that followed "Halloween." Whether then or now, many of these imitators lack the fun and originality of the source films and are often excruciatingly bad.

    Which brings us to "Urban Legend," yet another horror flick featuring a young and relatively unknown (read inexpensive) cast hoping to lure the teens back into the theaters and get them jumping in their seats. Well, that might happen for the first third of the film, but after the recurrence of so many repeatedly staged jump scenes, it's doubtful most anyone will ultimately find the proceedings too suspenseful, let alone scary.

    To be fair, the movie does start with a nicely executed, but quite predictable opening sequence playing off the old notion of "there's somebody in the back seat." While there's never much doubt about what's going to transpire, first time director Jamie Blanks and fellow screenwriting novice Silvio Horta still manage to raise a few goose bumps while delivering the goods.

    Quite soon thereafter, however, the film quickly dissolves into yet another deranged, but anonymous killer on the rampage story. While the notion of such a killer replicating old urban legends -- such as the killer in the backseat of the car, or placing harassing calls to the babysitter from inside the house -- poses a marginally intriguing blueprint for the killer to follow, that also falls apart rather quickly.

    Making optimum and repeated use of many early jump scenes -- mostly involving people turning and unexpectedly running into or being surprised by others -- all of which are accompanied by loud and sudden music, Blanks initially manages to get the maximum effect from such devices. After the fourth or fifth instance, however, most everyone in the audience will be ready for such occurrences and the effect becomes dramatically lessened with every instance.

    Fortunately, Horta's script does make good use of many red herrings, and it's initially difficult to guess the killer's identity -- a good ploy for any "killer on the loose" horror film. Viewers will have to guess whether it may be Paul, the journalist who may have staged such murders so as to have a prize winning essay that will further his career.

    Or how about the creepy professor who happens to have all of the murderous devices in an extra room hidden in his office? Is he using the "Basic Instinct" theory of covering himself by knowing he'd be the prime suspect in murders he himself has recently examined in his class? Then again, it might be the over protective dean, the mysterious janitor, or even the angry, lithium taking roommate.

    While that mystery does hold our attention throughout the story, as ever more suspects are killed, the fun begins to evaporate, especially after we quickly realize that everyone in the town seems to own the same sort of hooded parka the killer always sports.

    Finally, when the killer's identity is eventually revealed -- in what the filmmakers hope will be a surprising twist -- the effect is more likely to induce groans and catcalls, rather than fright or surprise, simply due its preposterousness.

    Although the killer's modus operandi makes sense and wraps everything together, there's simply no way this particular suspect could pull off some of the physical activity required earlier in the story. To top it off, the killer even has a convenient slide show to summarize their motives to both poor Natalie, and us, the equally suffering audience.

    To no one's surprise, there's also the obligatory double ending where the killer returns to make a repeat performance so as to be killed yet once again. Don't get too comfortable yet, however, for should the film prove profitable, you can bet "Urban Legend II" will be headed our way with that ever resilient killer -- or a copycat -- returning for more mayhem.

    Not surprisingly, the performances are unremarkable, although beyond some really bad overacting near the end, they certainly aren't horrible overall. From Alicia Witt (TV's "Cybill") to Rebecca Gayheart (the "Noxema Girl" from those TV commercials -- a fact the film momentarily pokes fun at) and Jared Leto ("Prefontaine") to Joshua Jackson (TV's "Dawson's Creek"), the cast looks good, but doesn't go much beyond creating standard issue horror film (ie. fodder) characters.

    Just as the student journalist character, Paul, states in the film, "The idea of an urban legend serial killer -- it's a stretch," the same holds true if you substitute "film" for "idea." While it's got that high concept sound that makes it easy to pitch to eager Hollywood producers, that doesn't always mean it's going to be the next big hit.

    With the returns from teen-based horror films waning with the last several entries, the filmmakers here may have jumped into this genre too late. An okay, but certainly not great horror film that gets considerably worse at it progresses, we give "Urban Legend" a 3.5 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    As in any teen-based horror film, the standard genre material is present. Plenty of scenes exist to scare the audience and/or make them jump from their seats, and ample amounts of violence and bloodletting also occur to give both categories extreme ratings.

    Profanity is also extreme with more than 10 uses of the "f" word, and sexual material is heavy with some activity occurring along with some phone calls to a sex-based radio talk show as well as some illustrated pictures from the Kama Sutra.

    While not fully explored, the urban legend myths presented in the film may prove to be of imitative fodder to some degree. Beyond all of that, the obvious bad attitudes and some drinking and smoking, the few remaining categories have little or no major objectionable material. Even so, and since a fair number of teens might want to see this film, you may want to take a closer look through the content if you're concerned with its appropriateness.

    Of special note for those concerned with sudden, bright flashes of light on the screen, a few scenes contain such moments.


    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • We see that Tosh has been taking lithium for her manic-depressive condition.
  • Damon gives Natalie a beer to "warm up" with while parked in a car.
  • People have liquor at a party, including Parker who has several shots and Brenda brings her and Natalie some beer (neither drink it), and a small dog may also be fed liquor through a tube, but that's not for sure. Also, a student may have been lighting up a joint, but that was also difficult to determine for certain.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • A woman is decapitated and we see just a brief instance of that plus what looks like blood on the head of an ax.
  • Foam comes from Damon's mouth after he falls to the floor having just ingested Pop Rocks and Pepsi.
  • Although we don't see anything, we do hear Damon urinating in the woods.
  • Natalie comes face to face with a recently murdered student whose face is bloody.
  • Natalie finds blood on the floor as well as all over a student and her bed and sees that her wrists were slit (and also sees a message scrawled in blood on the wall). We then see some blood on the sheet covering the body as it's wheeled away.
  • In a flashback we see that a student was killed in a car accident and we see some blood on the road.
  • The killer slashes a person's ankles with a knife causing a lot of blood to spill onto the parking lot, and as the victim tries to crawl away, they leave a bloody trail behind them. Then, after being impaled on a row of "wrong way" spikes imbedded in the parking lot, the person is even more bloody.
  • Reese slips in a pool of blood and is then partially covered in it.
  • Parker opens his microwave to find the bloody remains of what was once his dog.
  • A student had blood on his face and chest after being killed.
  • Natalie and Brenda find a dead and bloody body in the back of a truck.
  • The driver of a truck is bloody after a crash.
  • Natalie finds the bloody bodies of several previous victims in the killer's lair.
  • The killer uses a scalpel to punch a hole into Natalie and then to start to slice her open, both of which cause blood to flow.
  • A person who's been shot is bloody.
  • Natalie has some bloody scrapes on her face by the end of the film.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Obviously the killer has extreme cases of both, and some may see others for not believing Natalie has having some of both.
  • Damon tries to give Natalie a sob story about losing his girlfriend, but she quickly sees it's a lie so that he can make out with her.
  • Paul and Natalie break into Wexler's office to snoop around.
  • We learn that Natalie was on probation for a year in high school for reckless endangerment (being a passenger in a car that was chasing another car at night that ended in a student's death).
  • Parker is demeaning to Paul.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • Michelle arrives at a gas station at night in the middle of a storm. A creepy looking attendant with a stutter makes her come inside and she reluctantly follows him. He locks the door, she thinks he's trying to attack her and she finally makes it back to her truck and drives off as he warns her that someone's in the backseat. Moments later, she spots that person who's raised an ax (after we already have), but it's too late.
  • Natalie and Brenda go to an old, boarded up building at night and repeat "Bloody Mary" five times and then hearing screaming sounds coming from inside as someone then surprises them.
  • After ingesting Pop Rocks and Pepsi, Damon falls to the floor of Wexler's class and begins convulsing, but it turns out he's only acting.
  • In a several minute scene, the killer grabs a student in the woods and struggles with him (and has a rope around his neck). The killer then comes after Natalie who rolls up the windows and tries to start a car while the killer is trying to get in. Unbeknownst to her, the car bumper is tied up and around a tree branch and around the student's neck -- meaning if she drives away, he'll be hanged. She does, he is, and the body eventually crashes through the windshield.
  • Natalie walks through the library and we see a shadowy figure nearby.
  • Natalie returns to her dorm room to find Tosh apparently having sex again (with sounds), but in reality she's being strangled by the killer who eventually kills her. The next morning, Natalie finds Tosh with her wrists slit and the message, "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the lights?" written in blood on the wall.
  • Natalie and Paul snoop around Wexler's office, including a hidden room.
  • Natalie sees a swimmer who is oblivious to what may be the killer slowly approaching her.
  • The killer slashes a person's ankles with a knife, and as the victim tries to crawl away, lets a car slowly roll toward and eventually over that person, causing them to be impaled on a row of "wrong way" spikes imbedded in the parking lot.
  • Parker gets a call about his dog being in the microwave and thus races down to the kitchen to find out he's too late.
  • A student is attacked in the bathroom by the killer who pours drano into his mouth, killing him.
  • Sasha's radio assistant is attacked (and presumably killed), and the killer then comes after her and chases her through the building trying to strike her with an ax. At one point, she hangs from a central stairwell as the killer swings an ax at her.
  • Natalie and Brenda find a dead and bloody body in the back of a truck and then flee through the woods at night as they think the killer is after them.
  • The killer chases Natalie and another person in a truck and tries to run them off the road.
  • Finally, there's the climatic confrontation finale with the killer that goes on for many minutes.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Ax/Rope/Knife/Drano/Scalpel/Switchblade/Handgun: Used to wound or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Reese watches an old '70's film that shows a woman aiming a sawed off shotgun at a man, and while watching this, the campus cop has her handgun drawn while acting like she's in the movie.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "F*ck face," "Head" (oral sex), "Laid" (sex), "Hung" (for penis size), "Bitch," "Stupid bitch," "Psycho Bitch," "Payback's a bitch," "Freak," "Losers," "Jerk," "Moron," "Take a piss," "Bastard," Screwed up," "Screwed" (nonsexual) and "Rat's ass."
  • Sasha's radio talk show covers a question regarding someone replacing a person's birth control pills with baby aspirin ("because they look the same").
  • Some kids may try mixing Pop Rocks and Pepsi (related to the legend about your stomach exploding if both are ingested), or other "urban legends" such as driving without the headlights on, and then chasing whoever flashes theirs to notify you.
  • Tosh is into gothic-type behavior (wearing and decorating her room in black) and has a nose ring.
  • Paul uses a credit card to jimmy Wexler's office door open.
  • Students force feed a dog some sort of liquid (possibly liquor) via a tube attached to a funnel.
  • Parker goes to his microwave to find that someone cooked his dog inside it.
  • JUMP SCENES
  • A gas station attendant suddenly pops up at Michelle's truck window.
  • Damon surprises Brenda and Natalie.
  • A person turns and is surprised by another person.
  • Someone suddenly grabs a person in the woods.
  • The hooded killer surprises Natalie in the woods.
  • Natalie turns and Sasha surprises her.
  • Natalie opens a door and is surprised by a coat being or resembling the one worn by the killer.
  • A person is surprised by another person.
  • A figure suddenly surprises a person at a window.
  • Natalie is surprised to find various dead people in a darkened room.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • Not surprisingly, the film is filled with scary and/or suspenseful music.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • At least 13 "f" words (2 used with "mother"), 10 "s" words, 4 damns, 4 hells, 2 asses (1 mouthed with "hole"), and 5 uses of "Oh my God," 2 of "Jesus," and 1 use each of "God," "Oh God," "For Christ's sakes" and "Swear to God" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • Sasha hosts a radio talk show called "Under the Covers" and answers questions about birth control pills (having someone replace them with baby aspirin resulting in a pregnancy).
  • The next call refers to oral sex as Sasha tells her caller to "spit it out" -- her problem -- and the caller responds, "Well, that's the problem -- I didn't." As Sasha then playfully strokes her microphone like a penis, the caller states that she can "feel them swimming around inside me." Sasha then mockingly congratulates her caller on her "choice of sexual behavior," stating that her kind isn't ready to reproduce and tells her next time to get away from "the volcano before it erupts."
  • Natalie returns to her dorm room to find her roommate having sex with a guy from behind her (we see movement). Later, as Natalie tries to sleep and wears headphones to cover the noise, we see Tosh on top of this guy having sex (with movement and sounds).
  • Damon makes a sexually related joke about a decapitated woman, "Yeah I knew her...she gave great head."
  • A person makes a comment about "getting laid" and another states "that's the only way a girl would say he was hung" (referring to penis size, but also Natalie's story about Damon being hanged).
  • Sasha shows Natalie a copy of the Kama Sutra she found in the library. We then see several illustrated pictures of people having sex in various positions, some of which show penetration.
  • Natalie returns to her dorm room to find Tosh apparently having sex again (with sounds), but in reality she's being strangled by the killer.
  • Referring to Damon's disappearance, Dean Adams tells Reese that he's probably shacked up in a motel with a girl, a guy, "or a farm animal."
  • Brenda shows a lot of cleavage at a party, and Sasha later does the same.
  • Sasha takes another phone call on her radio sex show where two people who've been having sex are "stuck" after "trying out a new sexual position." The woman says, "I'm not stuck, he is" and the guy tells her to "stop clinching."
  • SMOKING
  • Tosh smokes a few times, while some smoking at a party also occurs.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • None.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • The urban legends presented in the film.
  • VIOLENCE
  • Michelle, thinking a gas station attendant is trying to attack her, sprays mace in his eyes and then breaks a window to escape from the station. Frantically driving away from the station, she knocks the man aside as she hits the road.
  • The killer decapitates a woman (not much gore).
  • Parker tells an urban legend about a professor at their college slitting many students' throats before killing himself.
  • Natalie slugs Damon after he tries to come on to her with a lie.
  • The killer grabs a student in the woods and struggles with him (and has a rope around his neck). The killer then comes after Natalie who rolls up the windows and tries to start a car while the killer is trying to get in. Unbeknownst to her, the car bumper is tied up and around a tree branch and around the student's neck -- meaning if she drives away, he'll be hanged. She does, he is, and the body eventually crashes through the windshield.
  • Natalie returns to her dorm room to find Tosh apparently having sex again (with sounds), but in reality she's being strangled by the killer who eventually kills her. The next morning, Natalie finds Tosh with her wrists slit and the message, "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the lights?" written in blood on the wall.
  • Natalie smashes a window trying to warn another student.
  • In a flashback we see that a student was killed in a car accident.
  • The killer slashes a person's ankles with a knife, and as the victim tries to crawl away, lets a car slowly roll toward and eventually over that person, causing them to be impaled on a row of "wrong way" spikes imbedded in the parking lot.
  • We see that someone has ransacked Wexler's office.
  • Parker opens a microwave and discovers that someone cooked his dog inside it.
  • A student is attacked in the bathroom by the killer who pours drano into his mouth, killing him.
  • Sasha's radio assistant is attacked (and presumably killed), and the killer then comes after her and chases her through the building, trying to strike her with an ax.
  • We see -- from a distance -- the killer repeatedly striking a woman with an ax (we can only see the swinging and not the impact).
  • Natalie and Brenda find a dead and bloody body in the back of a truck.
  • The killer chases Natalie and another person in a truck and tries to run them off the road, and finally succeeds, with the driver presumably being killed.
  • The killer punches Natalie, who later bites the killer who's trying to put tape across her mouth. The killer then strikes Natalie again.
  • The killer uses a scalpel to punch a hole into Natalie and then to start to slice her open.
  • The killer slices a person with a switchblade, they struggle for a gun, and the killer eventually shoots this person. Moments later, however, this person shoots the killer, and Natalie does the same causing the person to fall from an upper story window.
  • The killer tries to attack Natalie and another student with an ax, but finally ends up flying through a windshield to their presumed death.



  • Reviewed September 21, 1998

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